MERCED -- Vic Hurlburt knows all about serving his country.
The Air Force Vietnam veteran has experienced first hand the pride that comes from a lifetime of duty and sacrifice.
That's why Hurlburt and his cohorts at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4327 worked so hard to make sure other veterans around Merced County know that their years spent in military service are both appreciated and remembered.
Hurlburt said the VFW breaks into teams of two or three a couple weeks before Christmas every year and goes to visit all the veterans living in local care facilities.
"It's part of our VFW protocols," Hurlburt said. "We try to go in right before Christmas and see how everyone is doing.
"We don't want it just to be a 'Hi, how are you?' and 'Goodbye.' We want to have a conversation and learn about their lives and how they are doing now.
"A lot of war stories get exchanged, but for the most part, we're just trying to provide a little bit of sunshine in their day."
Every so often, Hurlburt and the VFW happen upon someone in need of help. That's how he came to know 92-year-old Maxwell Payne.
During a conversation with the World War II veteran, Hurlburt discovered that after returning home from Germany, Payne had lost track of his military records.
"We knew that because of our connections with the military records office, that we could probably find the information for him," Hurlburt said. "This isn't actually that uncommon. In the 1970s, there was a fire at the records repository in St. Louis.
"A lot of veterans lost their records," he said.
Hurlburt said he worked for several weeks with the military records office, and after about a month, he got a stack of papers documenting Payne's years as a security policeman in the Army.
"We discovered that he has five medals for service that he was never issued," Hurlburt said. "We got them awarded and arranged them in a special shadow box for him to see and display."
Hurlburt and the VFW presented the box to Payne in a small ceremony at the Country Villa Merced Nursing and Rehabilitation Center on Friday morning.
Center administrator Angela Guzman has witnessed how much the VFW's efforts have meant to Payne and the center's other veterans.
"Maxwell is very proud to be a veteran, and I think it's very important for them to be recognized," Guzman said. "I know he was really excited when we talked to him about the ceremony.
"His eyes brighten up when he talks about it," she said.
Hurlburt said that being able to help people like Payne is what keeps the VFW going.
"Some of these guys can't talk or their speech is limited," Hurlburt said. "But just coming around and talking to them and showing them they are still appreciated really means a lot to them.
"Seeing their reactions lifts our spirits up," he said. "It's very rewarding." ___